When in doubt, go to the library.

— Hermione Granger.

Books are a way for people to connect to one another or enjoy on their own. I believe that there is a book for everyone, and they just have to find it. This blog will mostly be about the books I read and what I think of them, but may have some other things sprinkled between. Happy Reading!

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The Personal Librarian

Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray

I know this is technically the second review I’m posting in 2022, but my New Year’s resolution is to actually try to at least rate and preferably review every book I read. We’ll see how that goes. (Most of them will probably be on my goodreads rather than here though).
That being said, I was really excited for this one, because racial passing is a subject I’ve read a lot about on my own time, ever since I read Nella Larsen’s Passing for a summer course 2 summers ago, and learned more about it as a part of that class. I also read The Vanishing Half earlier this year, which definitely lived up to its reputation. Plus, this book centers around a library. A library. With rare books! Which is actually not too far away from me! And turn of the century historical fiction which I basically never see so… yes I was excited.
I did enjoy this one, especially for focusing on a time period and very interesting individual that I haven’t read too much about. Still to be honest, for a book that centers around a librarian, it really didn’t seem like Belle cared about the books that much, but rather cared more about what they could do for the library/her career. I’m not saying that this was true of the real Belle, but that is how her character seems to be written in this book. The book also just didn’t seem to provide the same level of historical detail that I’ve seen elsewhere. I’m not saying overload with detail, that often doesn’t work well either, but it didn’t hook me in in the same way.
However, what really bothered me was the way that race was discussed in the novel. I haven’t read either of the authors’ previous works, and one of the authors was black, so it was overall fine, but the book seemed to use the word “racism” or “racist” to mean the very overt acts of racism that occurred (like in the historical note it said “she lived in a very racist time” which… that time never really ended). There also seemed to be the suggestion that right after the civil war there was no discrimination at all, which again seemed like word misuse to me. Yes, black people were able to have opportunities that they wouldn’t have had in previous years, which is wonderful, but there was still extreme, rampant, dangerous discrimination in every part of the country. I don’t know why this was talked about like this, but it bothered me. 
All of that being said, I really did like finding out about Belle Da Costa Greene as a historical figure who, despite her fame in her time, doesn’t really seem to be a part of the public conscience today. Plus, there do need to be more books written about this topic, and I’m glad it’s getting more recognition. Another thing that made me smile was seeing the book by the professor who had taught the course I had taken in the historical note (there’s absolutely no way she would be reading this, but just in case, hi Professor Hobbs!).
Overall I thought this was a nice read, hence the 3 stars, but I’ve read better historical fiction.
Also this review was supposed to be shorter. Continuing on like this is why it’s so hard to review every book. Oh well.


RJ Palacio

3 Stars

For the few years after Wonder came out, I would check every so often to see if RJ Palacio had written something new. But besides the companion novels (Auggie & Me and 365 Days of Wonder), there didn’t really seem to be anything. I wasn’t too surprised because I’ve seen this kind of “one hit wonder syndrome” for authors (yes, I just made that up, no, the factor that the word “wonder” appears in it was not purposeful but I’ll take credit for it anyway) happen to other authors whose books become as popular as Palacio’s debut was. The likes of JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins have written other books beyond those in the universe of their bestsellers, but often years after the fact, and they are generally only read by those who specifically look for these books because of who wrote them. This is by no means true for every bestselling author. Many continue to publish successful books every few years or so. But it does happen for some and RJ Palacio seems to be one of them.
This book did not seem to receive the publicity or recognition that might be expected for the return of an author whose original work gained so much prominence, considering that I hadn’t heard of it at all before seeing it in my school’s library with a helpful post-it note (Thank your librarians, they’re wonderful people). This could partially be because I don’t pay as much attention to middle grade releases as I used to, but I feel like I would have at least heard of it if it was truly being publicized. Even with the post it note, the generic horse cover didn’t exactly the book any favors in my mind, even though I doubted that would be the direction RJ Palacio would go in.
When I finally did pick this up, I was right about it not simply being another horse story. In fact, for a book titled “Pony,” the horse barely featured into this book at all. I was excited about the horse’s appearance being different than the average horse, but this is hardly mentioned and does not seem to be something that bothers the general public, including the original owner of the house. Aside from this point, the only real focus on Pony was when he came back for Silas in the beginning of the book, and that he was offhandedly implied to have magical powers.
Of course, the story was well written, and I liked that there was an element of magical realism to it, which isn’t that common in middle grade books (fantasy in general is common, but this wasn’t that). The idea of ghosts being people who still have some tie to the earth is not the most original, but I also thought that this was done well. The message of forgiveness for past wrongs also interesting, and draw a contrast from the theme that any crimes committed by “good” characters were committed for a reason, and instead indicates that it is possible for people to do something wrong for selfish reasons, but then to grow from that.
Overall, I did enjoy this book enough to give it three stars, but I just don’t think it exactly measures up to the author’s debut. Then again, it was a hard act to follow!

Sister of the Bollywood Bride

Nandini Bajpai

5 Stars!!

Yes yes yes!! This was one of the most fun reads I’ve had all year. The fact that there was not only Indian representation but Punjabi representation and not only Punjabi representation but Hindu Punjabi representation made my heart inexplicably happy. It didn’t hurt that the book somehow managed to combine a Crazy Rich Asians style family reveal, a wedding story, a hurricane (right as a hurricane was supposed to hit Long Island), a sister story, and a girl applying to college all into one. It’s not easy to execute all of these things well, and I really enjoyed it, especially the college application aspect because although it wasn’t a major part of the plot, I think that often this is completely ignored in YA books, and as someone who is currently a rising senior, I’m always confused at how characters seem to automatically get into amazing schools without seeming to have spent any time working on their applications. 
However, the representation was really brought this up to a five star read for me. The acknowledgment that different areas of India have different cultures and traditions even under a shared identity was special because while I’m very proud of being Indian American and sharing that identity with others, no culture is homogenous and sometimes it feels like people automatically assume that one person’s cultures and traditions must apply to everyone. Because of this, I was really happy with how the book addressed the difficulties in trying to hold a wedding that bridged both Tamil and Panjabi cultures, but also showing how ultimately these difficulties can be bridged by people who care about each other. One other thing that made me smile was how the occasional Punjabi sentence that appeared in the book wasn’t translated into English. This is a tiny thing and might not be something that a reader who does not understand Punjabi would appreciate, but none of it was important to the plot and it felt like secret messages just for those of us who could. I’ve seen this done with other languages, but not any that I’ve fluently understood before, so this was special to me.
Overall a fun read that made me smile and took away a little bit of my college admissions stress! I would definitely recommend this.

Pride and Premeditation

Tirzah Price

2 Stars

I really did expect to like this. Even though Pride and Prejudice isn’t my favorite Austen, it seemed like a Jane Austen murder mystery was hardly something that I would be able to find much wrong with. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The biggest problem with this book was that it genuinely wasn’t what it was advertised as. Aside from a few scenes where the dialogue was directly quoted from the original and character names, there is nothing about this book that would make it a retelling. None of the major plot points of the original were present. (Spoilers for Pride and Prejudice) Darcy and Elizabeth don’t meet at a party. Darcy never says Lizzie isn’t pretty. Darcy never proposes to Lizzie the first time and is never refused. Bingley never even meets Jane. I could go on, but these are the main plotpoints of the original, and it seems difficult to claim that this is a retelling without them. The only real storyline that it could be claimed was followed to some extent was Wickham and Darcy’s history, and even that is not carried out, because Lydia never goes off with Wickham, repeating the past. Of course, some change is allowed and expected in retellings, but there is an expectation that some of the original storyline will be preserved, and I didn’t feel like that happened here.
Another point which bothered me was the amount of “not like other girls” ideology that seemed to be present in the book. This is some what inherent to Pride and Prejudice as well, but it seemed exaggerated here. All the other women seem horrified at the idea of a woman working, but Lizzie doesn’t care and consistently seems to believe that other women aren’t worth her time, repeatedly asking to see “Mr. Bennet” instead of his wife and sister, even though in reality they might have information just as if not more useful to her. 
I did however, think the concept of the book was interesting, if not the execution. Because I recently finished Great Expectations I was also able to recognize elements of London’s criminal justice system, which I enjoyed. If I hadn’t gone in with the expectation of this being a P&P retelling I might have enjoyed it more. Then again, I might not have picked it up in the first place.
Overall I thought this was a fun concept, but I wouldn’t recommend it because it didn’t live up to my expectations or its premise.

The Little Mermaid’s Voice

Shonna Slayton

4 stars

I always enjoy Shonna Slayton’s historical fantasies, and this was no different. I was especially excited for this one because I’ve only read one or two books set on the Titanic, and I’ve never even seen the famous movie. I thought that the idea behind this one was particularly interesting, as the little mermaid has always been my least favorite fairy tale, but I’ve enjoyed retellings of it before and I was curious to see how the author incorporated it into history. The story follows Mairin, the niece of the Little Mermaid 100 years after her aunt’s famous story takes place (A mermaid lifetime being about 300 years, as in the original Grimm version) the mermaids are now trapped under a barrier and are unable to surface, and Mairin feels trapped by this.
I really enjoyed the way that the Titanic was incorporated, because while it was clearly well researched, there was not so much information loaded into the book that I could not enjoy the storyline. I also appreciated the fact that the book talked about the human cost of the event, because while it is very much romanticized in today’s society, people’s lives were drastically changed, with even those who survived mostly never setting foot on a boat again.
An aspect of this particular retelling that I found interesting was that it almost seemed to assume that the reader knew the storyline of the original Grimm version of the story rather than the Disney version. While many retellings do in fact focus on the original stories, I felt like this had stronger ties to it than most do, and while I do feel like the book could be read and understood without reading the original, I was glad I had while reading.
I do think that Mairin falls into the trap laid out for her a bit too easily, but I guess without that there wouldn’t really have been a plot, so I understand why it had to be done that way. I thought Zade and Edwin were very fun, and I’m glad that the book ended the way that it did. I did feel like some parts of the story were left a bit unresolved at the end, but part of the ending did make me feel as though there might be a sequel, so I suppose we’ll see. 
There is a fun link at the end of the Kindle Version that allows you to guess the original Little Mermaid’s name for access to a “secret page” I was able to guess it, but only after looking back through the book. Overall I thought that this story was another interesting blend of history and fantasy, and I enjoyed the lighthearted touches combined with the seriousness of the topic.
Thank you to the author for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!

The Wickeds

Gayle Forman

5 stars!!

This was by far the best short story of the series! And that’s a shame because this is the last story because most people will probably abandon the series before they get to this point. I nearly abandoned it after almost every story but decided not to because they’re short, free, and it’s good to have something to read on a device just in case. Still, most of the books in this series seemed unnecessarily confusing, to the point where I could not understand how some of them connected to the story they were supposed to be retelling at all. I’m so glad I stayed with it, however, because this story was exactly what I was looking for. The story centers on the Wicked Witches/Stepmothers from Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White, and looks at the story from the point of view of the stepmothers and how the story may not be as cut and dry as presented. 
While the concept of a story from the point of view of the “villain” is not necessarily a new idea, I thought that this was particularly well done as it shows the ideas that are so normalized within these series that most people never give them a second thought. Not the typically analyzed “damsel in distress” idea, which most people now recognize, but rather the idea that all of these women who were demonized by these stories actually raised these girls from when they were very young, and most of them were just teenagers when they left, and how that might have twisted ideas around. I won’t say anymore about this specifically because I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s an idea I haven’t seen explored before.
This is a short review, but the story was short as well and I don’t want to give too much away. Ultimately, I think that this story does something that isn’t often done in the realm of fairy-tale retellings. Each of the women in the story has her own to tell, and is definitely worth the read to hear them.

Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age

Jessica Pressman

2 stars

To be honest, I was really excited about this, considering how much I love books about books, and the many “bookish” items that I see around me, especially because I have been reading more nonfiction recently after how much I loved The Library Book. However, this book was written with a very academic and technical tone (somewhat to be expected for a book written by a professor), which would be fine for someone who knew the subject matter very well, but as a casual reader, I had to force myself to finish it. This says a lot considering the actual content of the book is slightly under 200 pages. (This page count includes the references and index, which themselves take up almost 50 pages). 
The book went into extreme detail analyzing various multimedia/experimental works which, the majority of the time, I had honestly never heard of and therefore could not fully appreciate the analysis of. Frankly, most of these works did not seem like they were at all known in the mainstream, one of them being cited as such a “failure” that it was not even listed in the author’s previous works in future books. The only- and I repeat- the only work I had heard of in this book was Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, incorrectly cited as The Wishing Well, which is not analyzed in the same way as the other works but rather used as a touchpoint to connect her ideas about bookishness to her daughter. 
As much as I had trouble connecting to this book, I did learn a bit about bookish culture, although not as much as I was expecting. It is clear that the author spent years researching the subject, and although I may not have been the intended audience, I can appreciate the effort that went into this work. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this to the average reader, but if someone was very interested in experimental multimedia and its effects, this may be something they would enjoy.

Love & Olives

Jenna Evans Welch

4 stars!

Another amazing book by Jenna Evans Welch! While Love and Gelato is still my favorite of her novels, I’ve loved all of them so far and was especially excited when I heard this one was going to be set in a place I had actually visited. Santorini, Greece! This books follows the story of Addie’s soccer friend Olive (“Liv”) (Though unfortunately neither Addie nor Lina appear in this book) as she travels to Greece to see her father whom she had not met since she was eight. This book deals with some heavier topics than the author’s previous ones, including mental health and abandonment, but still manages to be a lighthearted read without glossing over the importance of these issues. 
As usual for this series, the setting was a highlight of the novel, and even in just reading about Santorini I learned more about the island than I did when actually visiting (believe it or not, the buildings weren’t all painted nice to look good on your social media). I felt like I was back in Santorini which was a welcome relief considering how I’ve barely been able to leave home during the pandemic. It was clear that the author had done a lot of research regarding the island, but it never came across as info dumping either. I loved the Atlantis storyline and the possible connection between Atlantis and the island, which I had never heard about before. I feel like Atlantis is not explored too often in books and I loved the kind of Could-be/ Could-not-be fantasy element it added to the book, although it remained still very much the contemporary I was looking for. Of course one of the most amazing parts of the setting was the most quirky and wonderlandistic bookstore! And Liv of course gets to sleep in a bedroom that opens through a secret wall in this very bookstore. It does make me sad at times to remember that fictional places are not, in fact, places I can actually visit. Sigh.
The father-daughter element of this story was reminiscent of Love and Gelato, but was handled in a very different way. I appreciated the way that the author showed that both Liv and her father needed time and space to connect to one another again rather than it being one sided. I think family elements are often ignored in novels like these unless it is to cause drama, which is sad because there is so much potential for these kinds of stories, and it made me so happy to see it here. Of course, that does not mean that Toby and his ever-present camera were completely irrelevant, and I laughed the goofiness that he brought the story and the way he brought Liv out of her shell and helped her recognize that she was worth more than she realized.
Overall I thought this story was a beautiful novel that ultimately showed that family means more than anything else, even if it can also be the hardest thing to be a part of.

The Book of Lost Names

Kristin Harmel

4.5 stars!
Thank you to goodreads for my 3rd goodreads giveway win!
World War II was a horrible time in history and it is important to recognize that. I have read so many books set in this time period and every time I learn something new. I simply loved this. I’ve always loved novels that connect the past to the present, and while there are definitely a lot of them set in this time period, this one stood out. 
I appreciated the way that the author made the present voice in the first person while keeping the past in the third person, which I felt made it seem almost like Eva was looking back on her past without detracting from the story. I did feel a bit surprised that there was much more of the book set in the past than the present, but I later felt that it didn’t need more of the present than it had, and I was glad of the opportunity to have more details of Eva’s earlier life. 
I loved the fact that I was able to learn about the important work of forgers! I had read about different parts of the French resistance but most of this had been about passing along messages or occasionally hiding people, so it was interesting to not only have a main character with a more active role, but also be a person who was actively in danger even without being involved in resisting. It is always amazing to me how brave people were even when they knew it could be extremely dangerous for them. Eva’s bravery and resolve to stay and help even when she could have escaped to safety shows her to have a character that even the strongest people sometimes do not. 
I also thought the relationship that Eva had with her mother was very important in terms of the way that she reacted to the work that Eva was doing and what happened to her husband. Even though some may criticize her for the way she acted, ultimately she had just lost her husband and wasn’t sure he was alive, and needed to keep as much of her family together as she could. She was afraid to lose her daughter as well, and also that her daughter was losing the very part of herself that they were being prosecuted for. If they were to be in danger just because they were Jewish, it would make sense that she would want to make sure that her daughter was not “becoming Christian”, which is also what those who were so horrible were saying they were. I do think that it was shown in the end that she really was proud of Eva, and I’m glad that she was.
I really loved Eva’s relationships with Rémy and Geneveive. Even though I know that not very much time was spent on her and Geneveive’s relationship, I could tell that they had grown to care about each other over time, and that Eva did not tell her what she was doing not because she didn’t trust her, but because she didn’t want her to get hurt. Of course Eva’s relationship with Rémy was a very big part of the novel, but I did think there was some problems with the way he originally acted. However, over time I forgave him for it, and while I found the ending of the novel predictable, it still made me smile. 
Overall I found this a very interesting book with a new perspective on this period of history.

Sidenote: I received my copy of this book in October and meant to post this review months ago but completely forgot about it, but I am grateful to the author and publisher for my free copy.

Clockwork Princess

Cassandra Clare

5 Stars!

Will. Jem. Tessa. Never did I think that these names would come to mean so much to me. I read this series on recommendation from a friend, but the friend in question only really enjoyed The Dark Artifices and just told me to read the rest of the books first so that I would be able to read those. As I sit here unable to comprehend that this series is actually over, I feel that I am going to have to disagree. 
Normally I cannot stand books with this kind of plot because it is obvious who the main character is going to choose and it ends up with the reader either not caring about the other character or there is no real reason that the character makes the choice they do, often making the reader feel cheated out of their preferred outcome. 
Cassandra Clare avoids all these things and crafts a story that truly makes it possible to want good things for everyone, and achieves this too. That is not to say that there is not heartbreak or pain in this novel. There is. But it serves to make the story stronger, not to weaken it with unnecessary conflict. 
There are elements of this story which I had somewhat predicted after I read Clockwork Prince, but they were incorporated in ways that surprised me, and yet I was thankful for them. Although I do think Will and Tessa were more alike, I would not have wanted that to come as a default choice (The Hunger Games anyone?), and as much as I love Will, I also loved Jem as a character and I don’t think I would have been fully satisfied had what I originally predicted happened in the way I had thought it would. And the ending was everything.
The amazing thing about this series is that it really is a true triangle, but not a lopsided one which causes problems for everyone. Rather, it is a perfect equilateral triangle. Each point is equally connected to both the others. Even though Jem and Will’s bond is not the same as the one between each of them and Tessa. It is not any less important for it. Honestly, the connection between them was so pure and strong that at times it made me want to cry. This is not a story of Will and Tessa, or Jem and Tessa, or Will and Jem. It is the story of Will, Jem, and Tessa. William, James and Theresa. And I am just happy to have been able to read it.